I was born/grew up in: Cebu City, Cebu Province, Philippines
I now live in: Toronto, Ontario
What I do at work
I work at the LCBO's Quality Assurance (QA) Lab. The LCBO is the importer and the retailer of almost all alcoholic beverages in the province of Ontario. As a result, the LCBO is legally responsible for the contents of these beverages. Thus, the LCBO needs to guarantee that the products being sold meet Canadian and Ontario standards. This is the mission of the LCBO QA Lab. The work of the chemist is to support this mission.
A typical week involves performing chemical analyses on beverage samples. We do this to determine the chemical hazards as well as the alcohol content of beverages. The hazards we look for are preservatives, excess sulfites, heavy metals, carcinogens and pesticides.
The two key skills I use are chemical knowledge and statistical knowledge. Chemical knowledge is necessary to conduct the testing properly and safely. For example, never mix oxidizers with organic solvents. Statistical knowledge is necessary to ensure validity of the results. For example, how can you tell that 1.5 ppm is ACTUALLY 1.5 ppm?
I use a lot of specialized equipment to analyze beverages. These include gas and liquid chromatographs. These separate and measure the different types of chemicals in a test sample. Another interesting instrument is a mass spectrometer. This ionizes chemicals (breaking them down) to produce a characteristic "fingerprint". These fingerprints are used to identify the chemical. Another specialized piece of equipment is an Inductively-Coupled-Plasma. This equipment uses a stable noble gas (argon) to generate an intense plasma that ionizes atoms such as heavy metals. Ionization allows the metal ions to be identified by a mass spectrometer. Ionization causes heavy metals to emit light at a very specific frequencies. This can be used to fingerprint the type of heavy metal.
Problem solving in my profession often involves fixing the instrument. The instruments I use sometimes break down or malfunction. I use problem solving to isolate the problem and fix it. Then I test it to ensure it is back to working order. Other problem solving I do is to help identify quality problems in customer complaints of beverage. Such complaints include exploding or "gushing" beer, sour wine, "glass" fragments in wine, and soapy Whiskey. A background in STEM equips me with the necessary knowledge to be able to quickly identify the possible problem. For example, my STEM education in microbiology tells me right away that sour beer is often a bacterial contamination problem. This allows me to select the correct procedure to isolate and confirm the problem. For example, I might use a gram-staining process to narrow the culprit to the "usual suspects".
My career path is
The education I obtained prepared me for this career. My four-year Bachelor's degree prepared me by building on the knowledge foundations required for this career. My Master's and Doctorate degrees immersed me in the scientific process. This gave me the necessary skills for generating new knowledge (i.e., in problem solving).
I am motivated by
The most enjoyable aspect of my job is in the variety of products that I get to work with. Through this job, I have been able to educate myself on a wide variety of alcoholic beverages. This makes for very interesting subject matter for conversations as well as for educational purposes.
Other exciting aspects of my job is the problem-solving nature of it. You are often immersed in a situation that is not "textbook". For example, when an instrument is producing uncharacteristic signals. You need to figure your way around the situation using what you know and have learned. Then you have to synthesize this into a solution that is unique and novel. My career involves problem solving, learning and generation of new knowledge. This makes it a perfect fit for my personality and background.
How I affect people’s lives
The key impact of my work is in ensuring that unsafe or unpotable beverages do not make it out to market. If a beverage that is unsafe (say, too much methanol) makes it out to market, it can cause health and safety problems. It could also have legal consequences for the LCBO. Knowing that my work helps to protect the health of others makes my career relevant and fulfilling.
Outside of work I
For fun, I explore the city of Toronto and I read. I also go biking around Toronto and spend time with my friends in various get-together activities.
My advice to others
Find what you're interested in and don't stop learning!